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Eric Akis: Bean 'meatballs' in marinara make healthy, flavourful pantry meal

A moist and flavourful cannellini bean mixture is rolled into balls, roasted, and then set in simmering marinara sauce.

I was taking inventory in my pantry the other day, looking for things to build a meal around, and came across a can of cannellini beans, a jar of marinara sauce and some panko. This trio of ingredients inspired me to make meatballs, but with a twist — there would be no meat in them.

To make them, I drained the cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans, and put them in my food processor. I then added an egg, some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a mix of seasonings and pulsed everything together until well combined.

After the bean mixture sat a few minutes, it was set enough that I could roll it into balls, which were placed on an olive oil-brushed baking sheet and roasted. The last step in the process was to set my roasted cannellini bean “meatballs” in a skillet filled with simmering marinara sauce, where they cooked a while longer.

You can serve the bean meatballs as you would other Italian-style meatballs, over such things as pasta, risotto or polenta. You could also make meatball sandwiches by stuffing them in buns with sliced provolone or mozzarella cheese and some baby arugula.

My recipe makes 12 cannellini bean meatballs, yielding two to three servings depending on how you serve them and the size of your appetite. The recipe could be doubled, if desired. While you eat the cannellini bean meatballs, know that the beans used in them are fat and cholesterol free and a good source of protein, fibre, iron and other minerals.

Cannellini Bean 'Meatballs' in Marinara Sauce

A moist and flavourful cannellini bean mixture, rolled into balls, roasted, and then set in simmering marinara sauce.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 22 minutes

Makes: two to three servings

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained well, rinsed, and drained well again

1/2 cup panko (see Note)

1 large egg

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus some for sprinkling

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp smoked or regular paprika

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus some for sprinkling

• pinch red pepper flakes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (see Note)

2 Tbsp water

Place beans, panko, egg, vinegar, 1/4 cup cheese, oregano, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, 2 Tbsp chopped parsley, pepper flakes, salt and black pepper in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is well combined, but still a little bit coarse in texture. Let mixture sit a few minutes, to firm up a little bit.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 F. Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the paper with the olive oil. Moisten your hands lightly with cold water. Now roll, about 1 1/2 Tbsp amounts, of the bean mixture into 12 about 1 1/2-inch balls, setting them on the baking sheet as you go along. Turn each ball to coat it lightly with the oil on the baking sheet. Roast the bean meatballs 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside for a moment.

Pour the marinara sauce and water into a 9-inch skillet, set over medium heat and bring to simmer. Set the bean meatballs in the sauce, swirling the pan to coat them with it. Return to a simmer, and then simmer bean meatballs in the sauce five minutes, turning them occasionally. Serve portions of the meatballs sprinkled with additional grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley.

Note: Panko, coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs, are sold in the Asian foods aisle of grocery stores. You’ll find jars of marinara sauce for sale in the pasta sauce aisle.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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